Carter Wong has a long-standing relationship with howies with the studio effectively acting as a ‘brand guardian’ for the clothing company. Based in Cardigan Bay in Wales, the small outfit keeps a single shop in the town and plies the majority of its trade online. It prides itself in taking time to source quality materials and investing in technical expertise to make its clothes. It’s an attitude reflected in the creation of its new hand-cut woodblock face, called Castan (the Welsh for chestnut), which Carter Wong designer Martyn Garrod reckons took 162 hours to cut, brush, print and scan. It has certainly been a labour of love.
Phil Carter had originally drawn up a new howies font, but felt it needed something more to make it truly unique. What followed was a highly collaborative approach to creating a bespoke typeface; one that employed chisels, wire brushes, a blowtorch and plenty of ink and paper, before the letters went anywhere near a computer. “The idea with the font was that the top end would be rounded 2 3 and curved, while the bottom was more blocky, as if it had been chiselled, squared off,” says Carter of the face he had originally come up with. “It was an ‘idea’ for the letterforms … and that’s when we started on this journey, towards cutting it out of wood.” Settling on this new direction, the studio found a woodworker who they approached with the task of cutting out the required letters. Seymour Prior, a fencepost maker by trade – with no lettering experience – then embarked upon carving a full alphabet from Carter’s drawings.
“The easiest thing to have done would have been to import a wood texture into the font,” says Carter. “But here each letter is different: they each have a particular grain – it’s as authentic as howies making a pair of jeans. And it has to be a believable story – you could make one up, but you’d be found out.” Indeed, the story of the whole project is set to feature on the howies website as a short film.
Having cut the letters, the next stage was to achieve a print from each one which could then be scanned and worked into a font. Carter says the team also came across some valuable techniques on the website of the late American artist, Bryan Nash Gill, among whose body of work were a series of prints made from the cross sections of trees. “How he got the grain up was by burning it, to get rid of the soft elements, then continually brushing it,” Carter explains.
“When we were testing it,” says Garrod of the printing process, “the ink wasn’t going onto a flat level. But if we burnt it and then soft-wire brushed it, we got all these flat platforms and we could see all the cracks, too.” The resulting prints were then scanned and flipped (for ease the letters were not cut out in reverse), levels were adjusted, and the files were made into a complete font by Richard Dawson. It has since been used across the howies website and now features on a new T-shirt design.
The woodblocks themselves may also find their way into the howies shop. For now, though, says Carter, they are a great talking point in the studio, which itself became something of a workshop on this job – much to his satisfaction. “I’d like to do more of it,” he says. “I’m all for the craft elements and how we can combine them with technology. The lovely thing is, as the wood is alive – and drying out – it will eventually split. So in another a month, we’re going to print them all again.”
Castan font hand-drawn by Phil Carter. Wood hand-cut and carved by Seymour Prior. Wood blocks wire brushed, burnt, hand-printed and digitised by Martyn Garrod and Chris Bounds. Font progammed by Richard Dawson. Photography by Josh Exell. See howies.co.uk, carterwongdesign.com